So I saw a “solicitor” on the news commenting on this who looked like a muppet and gave incorrect advice. I felt obliged to correct them with this article.
The Hatton Garden “heist”
We all saw it on the news. A break-in by sophisticated thieves across the bank holiday weekend. Security boxes taken and a CrimeWatch segment. All round it is a fun read, but tragic to those who suffered losses.
So what is the legal position?
Well those with insurance can make a claim against their policy. It may not be straightforward as they will need to persuade the loss adjuster of the extent of their losses. If you kept something expensive in there, I hope you have some proof in support of your loss. I can only hope they declared the high value items within their policy schedule.
What about those without insurance?
There are 3 potential targets:
- The thieves
(haha – good luck with that!!)
- The police
(hmmmm, good luck with that, you have better prospects than the criminals – but it’s still under 51%)
- The security company
(this is worth a punt)
Without seeing the contract, only general advice can be provided here. It would also help to know the alarm records, maintenance, etc.
It seems the security company relied upon (i) internal security; (ii) additional internal security; and (iii) external security. This is a fairly good measure. Expert advice from those in the industry would be needed, but it seems the measures taken by the security company appear to be standard for high value items.
The standard of care is difficult. There is nothing in the media to suggest that anybody asked for their items to be stored in a particular manner. However, while the parties may have been free to negotiate terms to that effect in the contract (for incorporation) I expect standard-form contracts were used by all of the customers.
Absent any contractual agreement that these goods would be stored in a certain manner, the common law duty of care of a bailee is to take reasonable care of a bailor’s goods. In determining what is reasonable, case law is clear that it does not look at the value of the items in isolation. It is determined by circumstances of each particular case. These tend to include:
- The vulnerability of the commodity
- Proper and convenient measures for expeditious working
- Visibility of the equipment to the public
- The surrounding area
- Risk of detection and apprehension
So what would the claimant need to establish?
– the value of the item was attractive to thieves
– the normal storage of items within the industry
– the location of the premises was at risk of an elevated level of criminal activity
– the security measures were lax (e.g. activation of the alarm(s), CCTV, etc) and not a deterrent.
What is a big issue?
The response to the alarm activation is likely to be a contentious issue. If all the security company had to do was alert the keyholder(s) and the police – and this happened – then it may be hard to establish a claim. One would however think that a further enquiry would need to be made with the keyholder/police to follow up on what they identified from their attendance at site. If not, and there was an opportunity to prevent the theft, then there may have been a want of reasonable care. As the theft covered across days, this is where mileage maybe gained. It is not simply a case of a “smash and grab” where the window of time to respond is very short (e.g. 2-3 minutes) and a rapid responding police car would not have been able to prevent it.
Playing devil’s advocate this claim may be defended. It would be useful to know whether the security company simply rented office space in the building. If so, this would prevent them from controlling some of the external and communal areas. They may also not have responsibility for the keyholder/police response. Again, the paperwork would help to establish this.
Anyway, as always, email me if you want to formally instruct!
Over and out.